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Oh deer! At home on dal-bhaat diet
- Baby chital raised indoors set free in Salt Lake park

Her favourite food is tomato chutney, but dal-bhaat will do just fine. She likes to be called Hari, but at two years, she can’t be expected to know that Hari is a boy’s name.

And Hari — a gorgeous, spotted deer with a chestnut coat — is not likely to split hairs about this, either. She has bigger problems to worry about — like a dramatic shift in her living conditions.

When Hari was just a fawn, floods struck Krishnagar, and around 400 deer at the Parmadan Deer Park were swept away. That was when a holidaying family saw the baby chital barely hanging on to life and took her back to their central Calcutta home.

Within four walls lived Hari, eating the staple Bangali dal-bhaat, and relishing the chutney that came her way. But it is illegal to keep a deer in domestic captivity, as it is a scheduled animal on the Wildlife Protection Act.

News slowly travelled through the network of animal lovers in the city. That was how Ishita Mukherjee, animal rights activist, landed up at Hari’s home one day. “I told the family that to keep a deer is illegal and they could be arrested. They immediately gave up plans of keeping it as a pet and wanted to release it,” recalls Mukherjee, an actress who runs an animal welfare NGO.

But fearing prosecution, the family refused to come forward directly, so Mukherjee acted as liaison between them and the forest department. Finally, on Wednesday, Mukherjee and forest department officials rescued the animal and brought her to the Deer Rescue Centre, Salt Lake. Now she is being kept in a cage, with doctors coming in for check-ups, but soon she will be let loose in an open enclosure for does.

“Raised in captivity, she would not be able to survive in the wild,” explains Rathin Banerjee, deputy conservator forests (HQ), wildlife wing. Hari is also a little overweight. Lack of exercise and roughage in her diet may have led to this, but a few days spent with playmates and a leafy diet should set that right.

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